OPINION: Dear White America

BY Danny Frank |Guest Contributor| Dear white America,

I write to you nearly three weeks after a grand jury failed to indict Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback on charges related to the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.  Although this tragic failure of our criminal justice system has long since spiraled out of the mainstream newsreel and white America has moved on, I challenge us to keep it in the forefront of our social consciousness and explore the roots and impacts of the all too common phenomena of young black people being shot and killed by white police officers.  

Many of you continue to cling to a fundamental denial that the black community is perceived or treated differently than whites in the U.S. There is ample evidence to the contrary in our nation's history, in past and present policies at local, state, and national levels, and in the accounts of thousands of people who daily tell us they have experienced the world differently because of the color of their skin. Differentiated treatment of individuals based on race exists on interpersonal, institutional and societal levels in a number of implicit and explicit ways. Thus, present concerns, sadness, and outrage about the killing of young black people by police are deep and complex.

The Black Lives Matter Movement (as I understand it) aims to bring attention to the pervasive systemic marginalization, vilification and dehumanization of black individuals in our society. Police reactions to perceived threats (such as Tamir Rice) are tainted by racist ideologies that run to the core of our society and are perpetuated by politicians, media, education, friends and family. To deny this reality is irresponsible and dismissive.

At the same time, to broadly demonize police is short-sighted and divisive, detracting from the larger systemic roots of the problem. Still, tepid prosecution efforts in front of grand juries and repeated non-indictments of officers who shoot black youths reinforces unquestioning support of our legal system and law enforcement, both of which are products of the same racist ideologies that arguably lead some officers to uncritically pull the trigger.

Finally, some thoughts regarding repeated assertions on social media and elsewhere that Tamir Rice shouldn't have been playing with a toy gun at the playground (in an open carry state, mind you). Yes, it is true that he would probably still be alive had he not done this. And yes, teaching young children not to play with toy guns at playgrounds might be a good idea all around. However, we must acknowledge that a young white kid behaving in the same way would have likely been approached and treated very differently.

While there is room in this conversation for critiquing how children play, we must not do so as a distraction from the real pervasive problem at hand. For their very survival, black and brown children need to walk in the world everyday keenly aware of how they might be perceived by police and others. White children by and large don't need to give such consideration in their lives. This is a complex problem that requires thoughtful and multidimensional dialogue. Let's all please give it the critical attention it deserves. Sincerely,

Danny Frank – concerned white citizen

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